Our second day in Dingle would be our last full day of the trip, so we decided to make it our most relaxed as well. In a country (a region for that matter) that otherwise gets a sore score for weather, luck had been with us but had run out today; it was supposed to rain heavily and consistently all day.
The weather did hold off until the early afternoon though, so after breakfast we took a short drive down to the bay and then took a short walk along the south-eastern-ish shore. The walk took us through…erm…”muddy” fields but there was a strong path that we could stick to, and the little guy could play in the dirt a bit. At the end point of the trail was the mouth of the bay and a famine-relief structure (in ruin) called Hussey’s Folly. We got back to the car just as the weather was stirring up and went back to Pax House to relax in our room and reflect a bit on the trip and kind of mentally prepare for getting back to reality.
In a small break of the weather we rolled into town for lunch at a place called Ashe’s Bar on the lively colored main street in Dingle. Half expecting standard pub fare, we were quite taken back at the quality of the menu and the food itself. This was really no pub in my estimation (though the beer was spot on…some local porter with a label written in Gaelic…so good) but rather an on-point fancy restaurant quality dining experience. This may sound counter-intuitive based on the fact that I ordered a burger, but oh man was it good…erin ordered a crab cake salad thing which was also very nice. We would find ourselves back at Ashe’s for dinner that night…it was that good.
We spent the rest of the evening lounging around the place and making a run to the grocery store to get stocked up on supplies for the trip home. While there we ran into the proprietor of our place who was, from what we could tell, shopping for us for breakfast the following morning since we were going to be leaving so early.
And he was! We woke at 6am to get ready for our travel day home which meant a drive from Dingle to the Shannon Airport (a drive which would include our only instance of multiple laps in a round-about…not 15 minutes after congratulating ourselves for never taking more than one lap around a round about), a flight to JFK, and another home but it was kicked off right with a bag of breakfast and snack items waiting for us on our way out. Pax House was a bit of a splurge, but let me tell you that they go way out of their way to accommodate you.
The flights were the flights, the airports were the airports, and after a relatively painless, though long and exhausting day our trip was officially over. Ireland is probably the most beautiful place that I’ve been and I’ve thought long and hard about that statement. It rivals Hawaii in landscape and it rivals Thailand in distinctiveness. The people are incredibly nice and accommodating and somehow the entire country feels like one small community of people. I guess I wasn’t really expecting to be taken by it so much; but I’m happy to have been.
On our first full day in Dingle, and of course after breakfast we set out on a drive around the Peninsula. The drive itself is well traveled and called the Slea Head Drive which takes you out to the tip of the peninsula for a view of the Blasket Islands, around past some really old stuff, and back to Dingle town again.
I should note that at this point in our trip we were running severely low on underwear and also all other types of clothes. We had dropped a slug of laundry off at the local cleaners the night before, but it wasn’t ready yet. So, if in the course of reading through this post you happen across a picture of the little guy in his pajamas in public and in broad daylight…yes, those are his pajamas.
We started out the drive heading West from Dingle town past the Dunbeg Fort; a Celtic ruin of stone walls facing the sea. There was an annoying tour bus there so we simply drove a bit further on and got out for a few photos. After choosing the ford the river (there was water in the road running off of the cliff face we were driving under…on purpose) we turned the point of Peninsula for a view of the Blasket Islands. Pretty great scenery and all so we snapped some pics and pressed on.
We got out of the car a little further down at a place labeled on the Google Maps as Waymont. It’s a little boulder strewn hill with treacherous packed grass that allows for pretty spectavular views of the mountains, shore, and fields to the northeast. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen, in the same vista, such expanses of agriculture (villages of Ballincollas, and Ballyaglisha, et all) backed and flanked by mountains (shaped like a lower case cursive ‘s’…Farranlateeve and Brandon Peak) highlighted by a coved beach that could be plucked right out of the Carribean. Hawaii (Maui in particular) comes close, but I think this may have it beat.
After we oogled the view (the weather by the way has held up really nicely) we pressed on through Ballyferriter until we got to the Gallarus Oratory, a religious structure built in the 8th century. So old. We parked at a lot that, come to find out, some guy just built and started charging money for…you could park for free just around the corner. The thing was pretty cool though and as we let the little guy tear around the gravel grounds it was a pretty stark contrast between something so old, and someone so young. A few deep thoughts passed through the mind: How many generations of people held this place dear…How different were rituals held here versus those held today…Everything changes…Everything fades away…
So, needless to say Erin was ready to go…
Just up the road, stopped in the town of Murreagh to eat lunch. The plan was to spread out on grass at a church, but the rain the night before made the ground too wet…well not too wet, we just didnt feel like ruining the little guy’s blanket. We settled for a picnic table across the street at a convenience store.
After lunch we finished up the drive and headed back to our digs. Oh yeah. Before we did the drive we said good bye to the Browne’s and moved to our next place: Pax Guest House which is this 5 star joint on top of the hill to the east of Dingle town. They had just finished renovations and the place was immaculate; offering a panorama view of the bay.
We had a quick cup of tea and then decided to take a boat tour of the bay so we ambled back down to the pier and boarded a little boat that took us out. One of the crew members gave us some history of the area, which I won’t completely divulge, but which I found fascinating; particularly the bits about way there are so many stone walls in Ireland (hint, the English and property ownership laws!). Dingle also has a small claim to fame in that they have a lone dolphin that lives in the bay. All of the boat tours promise that you get to see the dolphin on the trips…we did…we did see it.
That evening we had dinner in an average pub on the main strip of the town called (I think) John Benny Moriarty and returned with a bittle of wine for a looong night’s sleep in our place. Long day.
After a harried (it’s silage season and this is a farm after all) and enormous breakfast, we drove back over the bridge that gives the place its namesake towards the village of Kilbrittain. We pulled the car off in a small gravel lot and crossed a tiny wooden bridge to a small thicket that began a small hiking trail through the wood. We had been looking for something physical to do after being in the car all day yesterday, so this little hike seemed to foot the bill: there would be a castle (the oldest inhabited castle in Ireland), a playground, and the preserved bones of a whale.
We zigged when we should have zagged and ended up in the other side of the valley from the castle..it was just as well though because it started to rain and the wood gave us some shelter. We made it back down to the car, decided to skip Kilbrittain village, and headed into Kinsale by way of Old Head, a little spur of land that sticks out into the Celtic Sea. This would have been the closest land to the sinking Lusitania in 1915, but today it is mostly a golf course but the drive is nice.
We drove up a road and looped around again coming through a farmers tractor parking lot (maybe a little faster than we should have) and parked the car just beyond a beach to get out and take some pictures.
On the way back to the car a women flagged me down to help her; it seems her car was stuck in the uneven ground and she couldn’t get free. I started rocking the car from the front to get it free while she pushed on the door frame inside the drivers side door. So, I don’t know if the car was in gear (R), or we popped the clutch, or gravity decided to start working overtime, but as soon as we got the front tire over a hump the vehicle lurched away from me and threatened to drag the women under the tires. She had to scramble to keep up, and just as it looked like she would recover, the unevenness of the ground struck again and she tripped, her legs appearing under the door where only her feet had just been. While she held on to the drivers seat and door handle, legs flopping along the ground, I had managed to get around to the back side of the car. I dug in and managed to slow the car, somehow, enough for her to get on her feet, get in the cab and pull the parking brake. Eager to GTFO, she said she was okay and I returned to the car to find a bewildered wife (who had seen it all). The little guy was asleep.
Kinsale is a small harbour town of some importance, popular as a tourist destination for Irish as well as people like us. We toured its tiny, brightly colored streets and had coffee and a light lunch in The Milk Market Cafe. We walked along the tie ups to the playground and let the little guy stretch his legs for about an hour and half before ducking into Kitty O’Se’s pub for some beers.
The little guy eventually fell asleep in the pub, so we stuffed him into the stroller, ordered another round, and coupled it with some dinner. There are a few standard pub food items and we had yet to try the Beef & Guiness stew (pot roast) so we had that and an order of chicken wings ‘merica. Around 9 the band started playing and around 9:02 the little guy woke up. His parents were having a great time though so we ordered him some food, put him in a high chair, and told him to deal with it for a bit.
The band gave him a a shout out, but at about 1030 he was losing steam so we packed up and headed out of the pub to a mixture of supportive and questioning looks, and drove back to the farm (through a town called Ballinspittle, which is the best name for a town…we saw a fox trotting down the road in Ballinspittle…he didn’t say anything though) and racked out for the night.
The next morning after another enormous breakfast we hit the road for Dingle in County Kerry. The drive was easy, but no less scenic, and we stopped only a handful of times. Once stop in particular was on Inch Strand, which is a beach that you can drive your car on.
As we entered County Kerry, the terrain became more mountainous but the biggest change we saw that the further west we went in the Dingle Peninsula, the less and less English we saw (though apparently they are about to switch everything to dual Gaelic and English again).
Arriving in Dingle, we checked into Browne’s which is the last name of the proprietors of our B&B. We learned actually that in order to have a B&B in Ireland (which is a huge deal here) you have to have 5 rooms or less, and you must live there as well…so calling our place Browne’s is as much about saying which place it is as it is saying who lives there…anyhow, they were awesome and extremely generous with their time and things. She brought us out tea when we arrived but also brought out some toys and a few books for the little guy as well. They even let us go out back and play on their son’s playground & trampoline for a bit to give the little guy some respite from the car seat.
They also gave us some recommendations on easts in town; a place called An Canteen (Gaelic for The Canteen) which is off the beaten path and run by “two local boys”. The meal was superb and sourced from entirely local food (as most places around here seem to be) and the little guy was happy enough to sit while we enjoyed a glass of wine and a nice meal. Everywhere we have gone thus far has been very accommodating for our 3rd companion, but these guys rolled out the red carpet for him and brought out some veg for him straight away. When I was young, my parents said they had to order French fries for me first thing at a restaurant; our little guy won’t touch them, but he will crush a side of carrots and half of your €16 piece of fish thank you very much.
After dinner we headed back to Browne’s, had a cupan tae, and crashed.
We got a leisurely start on Tuesday and after we checked out of our place and had breakfast, we loaded up the car and started our round about journey to the south of Ireland. We had met Tom who lived next door to our place and told us that we should take the coastal road to the Cliffs of Mohor, which we did because we were going there anyway. He also told us of a secret way to get to the cliffs but we weren’t able to pull that off.
The coastal road wrapped around Galway bay and went through the northern edge of an area called the Burren, a geological feature defined by porous limestone planes, tropical vegetation, boulders, and a road at times no more than a few feet from a tumble down into the ocean. We pulled the car off the side of the road at a switchback called Black Head just north of Murrough where the limestone formations dive into the sea. We scrambled along the rocks for a few photos and the pressed on.
Tom had told us not to park in the tourist parking lot for the Cliffs of Mohor but rather at a farmers house a bit up the road instead. He assured us that the farmer wouldn’t mind but unfortunately we never saw the farmers house until we had already gotten up the cliffs. He also told us that from the house there was a path to a title green patch of grass from where all the good pictures are taken, we saw this path later, but again never made it.
It didn’t really matter though, we parked the car and walked up to the cliffs which…well they are cliffs…we walked along for a while until the touristy area gave way (via a laughably shoddy fence) to an older foot trail that allowed closer access to the cliff’s face without the encumbrance of a fence. Naturally, we took this path for about a half a mile with the little guy strapped to Erin’s chest to get a few pictures no more than 5 feet from the edge. It was from over here that we saw Tom’s grassy patch, as well the beach he told us about far down below.
We returned to the car for the 3.5 hour drive down to Kinsale but made a quick stop in a pub called the Corner Stone in the small town of Lahinch where all three of us had great meals.
The landscape changed up a bit: there were more trees and the ratio of cows to sheep started to tip in the favor of the cows. Erin became annoyed at my ability to point out every ruin (“old shit”) on the horizon, but the trip was mostly uneventful until we got off the main road at Blarney (yes, that one).
[Redacted! See us in person for more details!]
We finally arrived at our place for the night around 830pm. We are staying in a little place called the Brideview Farmhouse which is aptly named as it overlooks a bridge and tiny little bay…oh, and it is a working farm. We decided to really stay out in the country side for this part of the trip.
We were told that most everything would be closed this time of night, but being quite hungry we got back in the car and drive into Kinsale and found a really nice Italian restaurant called Cantinetta. The proprietor loved the title guy and we loved his food, especially the flat bread which according to him you can only get from his village in Italy.
We drove back to the farmhouse after dinner, and crashed out after a long day of driving.
We began the day with a breakfast at the B&B. I had a duck egg omelette and E had eggs with ham; we also crushed some coffee, a few scones, and some yogurt with granola and poached apples. Yes we ate a lot, but today is a long day.
Ireland is divided up into counties, many of which share the name of a a city within that county. To dis ambiguity, you may here someone say Galway (or whatever) town (or city of village depending). Galway City, County Galway is on the southern border of a jut of Ireland, bordered to the north by Clew Bay, that mostly houses Galway and Mayo counties. Our missions today was to drive a route (that can be found in Rick Steve’s Ireland book) though these counties.
The route began by taking us North out of Galway City along the N84. It started easy enough (and truthfully through this whole thing never got difficult) as a properly divided highway with a full shoulder, but as we merged into the R334 the shoulder disappeared, the lanes narrowed, and the high hedge that flanked the road on each side gave way to open views of rural Ireland. It will be hard to put into words the scenery, but I’ll try I guess.
First things first, you have to imagine lots of stone walls. Lots. Then, you have to imagine all of these stone walls intersecting, in a grid-like fashion, at more or less right angles. Now separately, imagine rolling hills…no more rolling than that…the crest of every hill you imagine must be set against the rise of a hill behind it. The angles can be different, one hill pronounces itself from side of another; two hills coverage to form the ramp up, or down, of a third. Now take your stone wall lattice and set it down on top of this landscape, letting the humps and mounds bend and shape the walls, lengthening and shrinking them where needs be. Now switch to your fill tool and create a custom palette of greens and green-yellows and fill each sectioned portion of hill with a different shade, not being so careful with your selections, so that that two adjacent partitions may in fact be colored the same. Now, add sheep and cows, more the former than the latter, inside each corral, but not so many as to make it approached bring crowded, and place a mixture of old classic cottages and new construction housing amongst the landscape. Drop in a windy two lane road with posted speed limits vastly out pacing sensible traffic and clog your road with farm tractor traffic once every few miles. Finally, dot the landscape with a few (but not many) trees and every 10 to 15 kilometers top a hill with the Ivy covered ruins of some long forgotten structure, ranging in size from a small from house to a proper castle. Sprinkle in some bright yellow wild flowers and at this point you may have some idea of what the landscape looks like, but I really do recommend seeing for yourself.
Our first stop in the journey was the town of Cong which is home to Ashford Castle and the accompanying grounds. There is also an old ruined Abbey where monks used to fish and the last High King of Ireland lived out his last days. We parked the car (almost in the abbey) and walked the grounds for a bit, snaking our way down to the castle. There was almost no one around so we took a bunch of pictures and let the little guy tear around on the same grass that Pierce Bronson paid (I’m assuming) many euros to have his wedding reception on. We took a walk down the garden path and marveled at the gardens before turning around and getting back in the road towards Westport.
Westport is a sleepy little town on Clew Bay that had a very touristy feel to it (on account of the buses) but we found it kind of nice in our own way. We walked the streets, read some monuments and had lunch in a little cafe called Gavin’s, which was surprisingly good.
After lunch we set back out on the road, now following the coast line of the bay on the R335 towards Murrisk where we pulled over to see a monument of the Irish potato famine. The sculpture was that of a three masted ship with skeletons floating around in the wind. This stop also happens to be the entrance to climb Croagh (Mountain) Patrick which is an important site in the Irish lore regarding St. Patrick as well as a loooong establish pagan site for the summer solstice. If we didn’t have the little guy, and even then if we wasn’t sleeping, we may have tried for the summit, but we did and he was so we didn’t.
We continued on towards Louisburgh, which I thought must have some French connection (and will not be convinced otherwise after seeing a pub called Lyon’s), driving the windy coastal road before turning inland, staying on the R335. At this point the landscape changed entirely. In place of teen and yellow-green cow dotted fields, we got stone and bramble covered plains which transitioned abruptly into mountains and jagged hills. Sheep replaced the cows, and the road became little more than a driveway. Negotiating with passing motorists would have been an issue had we actually seen any. We were truly out in it now.
This area was still extremely beautiful mind you, just in an ominous and unyielding sort of way. You know all those stories about being unable to drive your car because of a flock of animals blocking your way? This is not made up and happened to us twice, though, judging from a picked-clean carcass on the side of the road, the sheep seem to have learned quickly as they are keen to get out of the way. We rumbled down, turned a corner and a large valley opened up in front of us complete with a lake and beach and the return of green fields up on the mountains. There was even a waterfall which cemented the conversation that this was on par with the drives you can do in Maui.
A little later on as we rounded a small fiord at the town of Leenaun we continued southwest towards the town of Letterfrack. Just before it we pulled over at Kylemore Abbey just to see it. We spent a few minutes figuring out that our map was mislabeled before finding the R344, a road so small that even Google has trouble with it, and setting our sites back to Galway. The landscape flattened out, though the mountains remained visible to our left, and we pulled back into our place around 730.
The little guy had been in his car seat a lot of the day (but he not fussed at all…seriously) so we took him across the harbor to a little playground that we spotted from our room’s window. We took a it to walk along the bay on a path through a large pro that reminded me of Grant park in Chicago before having some passable fish n chips and a little place called McDonagh’s across from our dinner spot the night before.
Thoroughly beat, we went back and all passed out. Tomorrow it in on to Kinsale on the southern coast.
We woke up on Sunday feeling pretty good and decided to grab a bite to eat and hit the park before getting on the road to Galway. We went back to our de-facto-favorite area by the Hairy Lemon (anyone?), and had some breakfast at a place called the Busyfeet & Coco Cafe where I taught the little guy how to properly butter and jam a piece of toast.
Wishing that I could have paid in Bitcoin (I actually could have, had I any), we cut back across Grafton towards the St Stephen’s Green playground. We took the long way around, and as we strolled down a path that smelled of anis, we were stopped by a couple who asked if we were from Dublin and if we could help them with directions. This has been happening quite a bit actually. I suppose that sane people’s deductive reasoning abilities, combined with us schlepping a stroller around, would make them assume that we were just out for an afternoon walk, and not 3 days into our actual vacation. Perhaps the fact that I have a tendency to slip into accents doesn’t help when I’m more than willing to oblige their assumption, and give them directions…not wrong directions mind you, we have a SIM card for an old iPhone here so not only do we have Internet access for navigation, but we also have an actual phone number, and no you may not have it.
After the park, we returned to our hotel and caught a cab to our rental car place on the other side of Dublin. One of the things that I love about traveling is that at 33 (I know not old), I still get to try new things, take on new challenges, and experience different stuff. I’ve been to Europe now four times, with my third coming last summer in Spain, but I’ve never driven here. In fact, the first time I drove a car in another country was in January of this year and that was just Canada, which isn’t different at all…mostly.
After a brief…discussion…with the rental car agent, I began to mentally prepare myself for the next 3-4 hours which would involve sitting in the right side of a car not much bigger than a yoga-ball, driving on the left side of the road, watching for traffic from right, taking wide right turns, looking up and to my left for the rear view mirror, traveling at unfamiliar units of velocity on unfamiliar quantities of fuel for unfamiliar units of distance, navigating in unknown cities, going clockwise in roundabouts, making sure there was quality EDM on the radio, and trying to understand ridiculous European traffic signage, all while keeping my family safe and my child from waking up.
So I just did what any respectable Dad would do and became an expert. Immediately.
The drive to Galway was mostly on Interstate-like roads with names like M6 so there wasn’t much for site seeing. The country side did open up eventually though and it was nice to have scenery with separate fore, mid, and back grounds; in Florida you get foreground and horizon. We passed countless rock wall sheep & cow enclosures, a caravan of nomads (which we would come to learn is a thing in Ireland), and a bunch of other scenery that was quite picturesque, but nothing compared to what was to come…more on that later.
We arrived in Galway more or less on time with the aid of my expert navigator on the iPhone (story telling!) and made it to our B&B (Heron’s Rest) on Galway bay. We were greeted nicely, though it wasn’t the big “Irish welcome” we had read of. We placed our bags in our room and woke up our little champ of a sleeper. …maybe the bit about the welcome isn’t fair, they did set out some decanted port for us (me) to drink and had hot water ready for tea and coffee. There were also scones; and then there were less scones.
It was Sunday so we knew there wouldn’t be a whole lot going on, but we saddled up the stroller and headed into Galway’s city center to find Eyre Square, a big…you guessed it…park in the middle of the city where there is…you guessed it…a playground and…you didn’t guess it…a plaque to John F. Kennedy who everyone loves in Ireland (this makes me really happy that we watched the mini series called The Kennedy’s on Netflix a few years back because I know a few things most people don’t expect me to…it never ran in The States despite starring Katie Holmes, Greg Kin…well, Katie Holmes so who cares who else…but was widely popular here…wait what am I talking about…).
We passed through the main drag of bars and restaurants on a road that changes names 4 times and found the park. The playground left a bit to be desired (I know I know, ugh a free playground, #fml) so we just played on the grass for a half an hour or so to stretch our legs and get some energy out. We were still in the mood for some live music so we went back to the main drag, but it was pushing 9pm and there is a strict no kids in the bar…past 9…rule here so we were out of luck again on this.
We settled on dinner at a place called the Quay Street Kitchen, which from the outside (and on the inside for that matter) looked like a fancy grown up restaurant. The hostess assured us that “they love children” so we went in and took the seat by the door which was nice because we could still enjoy the brisk breeze coming off the bay, without having a shivering little boy.
This meal was fantastic. We started with a roasted goat cheese salad thing that couldn’t be profitable to make, and the waitress brought out some steamed sweet potatoes and milk for the little guy. For entrees we had a Fishmonger’s plate that had a bunch of different seafood (tuna, squid, clams, etc) in a red sauce with dill, and an order of fried pork belly over mash. She had wine, he had a local IPA, and we all danced the locally-sourced-sustainable-farm-to-table-chic-and-trendy-decor-with-chalkboard-menus jig all the way to a dessert of this whipped cheesecake thing that I wanted to vomit back onto my plate (in a good way…) and eat all over again (…see!). Not only was the food amazing, but the service was great and attentive, and they genuinely seemed to enjoy having the little guy there despite a few “moments”…in fact as we were leaving they were seating another couple from London who had an 8 month old. If you are ever in Galway, please give these people all your dinner monies.
In a satiated stupor, we came back to our place and hung out for a bit before putting everyone to bed. The room we are staying in doesn’t offer a cot or crib for the little guy so we improvised with a large drawer, some blankets, and very attentive and active listening skills.
Tomorrow we are planning to drive around Galway and Mayo counties to what there is to see.